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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Squamish 50: Race Report 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

All the WRM Racers
The Squamish 50 race has a special place for me. It was the first Ultra at 50 miles that I attempted in 2013 (read the race report here), and it is also the major reason why I have met and developed so many amazing friendships. Ultra running brings people together in ways that are hard to explain. The highs and lows of training and racing is very visceral. It's hard not to feel a connection on a very deep level with the people to whom you expose your deepest self.

This year, I was running the 50k. My original goal was to use the SQ50k to set up my 50 mile plans at Meet Your Maker, but with the cancelling of MYM, I reset the SQ50 as my "A" race of the season, with Frosty 50k as my final ultra of the year in September. My training leading up to the race was solid. I blogged about it here. I felt confident going into Sunday's race and was shooting for a ballpark 8 hour finish time, with hopes of a 7:30 if the day went right.

We arrived on the Friday, and this year I was the Logistical Co-ordinator for the weekend. My job in the months leading up to and into the weekend were to ensure that stuff got to where it needed to get to at the right time. With over 900 racers, 80 kilometres of  mountain terrain, 200+ volunteers, 250 pounds of bananas, 500 pounds of watermelons, and endless amounts of potato chips, cookies, tables, water jugs, oranges, Coca Cola (oh the Coke!) and all the other stuff, we got to work right away on Friday. 

The Aid Station Organization Team!
I would also relay and monitor all radio traffic to ensure that marshals were in place, aid stations were stocked, ready and re-supplied and that the supplies were re-organized, sorted and prepped for Sunday's 50k & 23k after Saturday's 50 mile day. It sounds hard, but with the team of Gary (RD), Geoff (RD), Sarah (Volunteer Coordinator), Dianna (Volunteer Liaison) and Amber (Potato Cooking Demon!), things were floating along like clockwork.

Yes, these are real times of the day! I know!!
Friday went by like a storm, and before we knew it, it was 10pm and we had a pre-race, post registration meeting. I got to bed around 1:00 am for a 3am wake up call but didn't really sleep in anticipation of the Saturday event. 

4am Saturday morning: Race Logistics
By the time Saturday came around, I was at Race HQ, multiple radios in hand, my wife gathering AS2 supplies. Majority of the AS Captains picked up their supplies the night before (which was awesome, thank you captains!!). 

50mile race start was set up for 5:30AM, and the plan was rolling along. Through radio updates, text messages and phone calls, all marshals were en route, and Sarah was ensuring volunteers were on the way to the right locations. To make a long story short, Saturday went off really well! The race was solid, with strong showings, and a large number of our friends conquering new distances, and a few of them even doing the dreaded 50/50 (running 50 miles Saturday, and 50k Sunday)! We had a LOT of our friends running across multiple distances, so the energy and excitement was through the roof!

Ellie and Dianna
I did my hand off to John Barron Saturday evening as he was going to manage the day for Sunday, and finished my shift at 9pm. A long and rewarding day! A quick trip to the finish line to see Leona and Emily come in (that was emotional, as Leona was recovering from projectile vomiting, and Emily was emotionally spent). 

Leona 50mile
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Andy H 50/50
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Spring 50mile
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Linda 50/50
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Joseph Chick 50/50

Apocalypse Now

By the time I got to bed on Saturday night, it was just past midnight. With only one hour of sleep the night before, and three hours of sleep on Saturday with a really poor day of eating, my setup going into race day was in danger. I felt great waking up at 4am though, and quickly had a small bite to eat, showered, shaved (no race beard this year), and got my gear together. Went through my checklist of Infinit Nutrition, Snickers bars, Ginger and Tums. We were expecting a humid day with higher temperatures than Saturday's race. 

My boys, our dawg, and me
Heading out to the start line with the family was an awesome ride. We cranked the tunes and the adrenalin was pumping. We came into the busy staging area at Alice Lake. The sun was gently rising, which cast a pre-dawn hue to the skyline as it crested the mountains we were planning to conquer. The number of racers was astounding, and we neatly found our friends for the 50k and 50/50 day two.

Ready to Rumble!
Gary went through the pre-race briefing, and then in typical fashion started his countdown from 8 seconds. We were off!

Gary showing us how to do jumping jacks with flagging tape
Andy Joyce, Colin Aldous and I set off together, as we are all similar pace, with minor differences in strengths once the trails show up. A quick jaunt to the trail head, lots of waves and smiles and we start on the first rolling section through Stump Lake. This section is really easy and runnable, and we're cruising along, talking and planning our day. We know we will likely split up at some point, but for now, we were happy to run together and share in the experience. It was Colin's first Ultra, and Andy was back from an injury, so our joy was perceivable to be out there together.

I was leading our little wolf pack, and I kept checking in to ensure we were on a decent and casual pace. "This pace cool boys or too fast?" The response was always affirmative, and we were talking the whole way so no concerns there. We came into the Dead End Loop and up the switchbacks. We had a conga line behind us, but no one wanted to pass. We kicked out into the power lines shortly after and were coming into Aid Station #1 "The Corners" 8km in at 58 minutes. Perfectly on schedule. We didn't stay long, refilled water and were off at exactly 60 minutes into our day.

Running with Colin (L) and Andy J (R)
The cruise down the FSR to the entrance of Galactic, our 2500' climb to the ridge was fun and easy. Temperatures were good, although the humidity was making itself known. We hiked and ran and hiked up Galactic and ended up at the front of another very large conga line of about twenty five racers. I called back several times if anyone wanted to pass, but everyone seemed good with the pace. About 3/4's of the way up, I pulled to the side as the mental pressure of being ahead of that many racers was not a stress I wanted to carry. I pulled back in with a runner from Patagonia, his first Ultra, and we chatted about the course. 

Once my new found friend and I reached the mountain river at the top, he carried on and I took a moment to fill my "splash" bottles from the stream. I was using the Salomon soft flasks as dousing water to keep me cool as I tend to overheat on hot days. Colin and Andy were about a minute ahead of me, but well out of sight. Evannah and I ended up together and she was looking strong. We traversed the top of the ridge together, and once we hit the rocky trail, I passed her in order to keep my flow on that type of terrain. If I go too slow on rock-bed trails, I tend to turn my ankle, so I skip along the top of the stones kind of parkour like. My breathing was steady and I was still at a low heart rate, so all good. I passed a few people, as expected on the downhills, and then hit Upper Powersmart, a black diamond rated trail and one of my favourites

I'm feeling great, super fluid, strong legs, and in the groove. I float down the trail breathing light and passing a lot of people. My nutrition was holding tight, and I was a good third bottle into my fuel, so right on target with 260 calories per bottle. I catch up to Andy, and shortly after Colin. We kick out of the first section together and jaunt up to AS2 "Word of Mouth." Colin shows us a war wound, as he had crashed on the Powersmart descent before I caught up, and he has a gash just below his knee. As we leave the aid station, and drop into the Word of Mouth trail network, Andy jokes that the only place he's gonna slide is through the finish line. Seconds later, he takes a dive, but Colin catches his arm, preventing any major concern. We have a chuckle at the irony, and as we cruise along the single track, Colin says "I don't plan on any more spills." To which I respond, "What's the fun of that?!!" Oh, perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut on Word of Mouth. Just after the Wormhole split off, there's a simple little drop, and as I lead us through I catch a toe (Andy heard the crunch and thought I broke my foot) and go down hard, all in less than a second. This is a first, since I don't crash - ever! Yet, here I was, sprawled out on the trail. Unfortunately, the way I went to brace my fall put a huge amount of force on my right leg, and as I roll over to prop myself up, the entire right leg seizes up, from hamstring to calf. Colin and Andy are concerned, and I tell them to get out of here. It's a race, not a long run, but they won't leave. 

Evannah catches up, and stops also. Dammit people, go run! I look right at Colin as my leg is still fully seized and tell him to go, I'll see him at Quest. He takes off and Evannah follows. Andy takes about ten steps, then turns around and says, "I'm not leaving you here." I realize he's telling the truth, so I fake it. I know he's not gonna skedaddle unless he sees me get up, so I get up. I take a breath, tell him I'm gonna walk it off, and then he seems satisfied. He takes off and the second he's around the corner, I lean against a tree and jab my fingers into my leg to get them to release. (As I write this on Tuesday evening, I definitely tore something since I can't straighten my leg and my hamstring tendon is twice the size it should be.) 
Slowly but surely I am able to walk, then run, and I carry on into Quest. I arrive shortly after Colin and Andy, who seems perplexed that I came in so quick. My experience is that if a cramp can get moving again, then it feels better, so that's what I did, not knowing that the damage was greater than I first assessed.

My son Paris stretching out my cranked leg. Lucien with the pep talk!

My wife and boys are the Quest Aid Station, along with many other friends who were crewing for their own respective families. It's a major hub, and also the halfway mark for the race. While the back half of the course is much harder due to the relentless changing of terrain, I'm right on time for an estimated 8 hour finish. I've done training runs in the same trails from 36k to 47k so I'm planning on 4 hours for the back half to finish line! I express that despite my uncharacteristic wipe out, I'm having the best race of my life! 23 of 50k in the bag!!

As an aside, I did notice that my watch was paused!! Dammit, I must have hit it on a bottle swap coming down from the peak, so I decide to reset it at Quest so at least the back half will be accurate.

Buffet. Yum. Still feeling good.
A quick peruse of the buffet, a snickers bar to sate a bit of hunger (Saturday meal plan was coming back to haunt me), and bottle refills and I was off. Jen Mullally and Spring were there to cheer, and I rolled down the road, a couple of high fives and then the boring ass climb up Mamquam road. I speak to Chris from Ultralive TV who was live video updating the race on Saturday and running Sunday. He goes off into the trailhead up Legacy, and then my stomach starts to turn. This is an exposed, and very hot section of trail and I literally go from feeling good with some right leg pain to feeling like a bag of crap in about six seconds. My pace drops immediately, and Lisa Oswald-Coates cruises past me. No problem, slow it down, dial it in, stay cool, and slowly drink your calories. Nope, not happening. The first heave of the day is pending, and the lack of sleep and pre-race nutrition is catching up to me.

Andy: Radler Power - Take I

Andy H: Radler Power - Take II
Andy Healey cruises past, this being the second day as he completed the 50 mile on Saturday, and I realize I'm probably moving slower than I think I am. I don't feel like I'm bonking. I don't have listless legs, over riding fatigue or anything like that, and my fuel up to that point was good. I just feel, "off." It's the only way to describe it. Even plain water is making me gag! Another 50/50 runner comes up on the Legacy to NorthSide Connector crossover; it's Ginger Runner Ethan Newberry. He's looking focused and just after he passes, so does my stomach. I puke on the fire service road. Yes, it has begun! The Squamish 50 devil has latched onto my back and is dragging me down with every step. Let's continue shall we . . . 

The Nine Layers of Hell

I struggle to get out of the exposed trail, under the rising sun and ever increasing humidity. The longer I stay here, the more difficult my strategy to deal with it will become so I try to hammer through until I reach the long tall trees before Climb Trail. The stream I wanted to dunk in is dried up, so I curse it, and move on. As I approach a mountain bike bridge that goes over the trail, I see two runners who have already descended Angry Midget helping a female runner who bailed on the bridge and was cramped up and couldn't stand. I offer assistance, but they say that they have her. I don't know what happened to her after that, but she looked rough. 

Just before I go under the bridge, I see my Patagonian friend! Okay, things are falling into perspective. In about 6k, he has gained an hour on me in distance. Crap, how slow am I going?! I try to hustle, but anything faster than a trot and I feel sick. Not nauseous, just not right. It's very odd, and I realize my day is unraveling. It's gonna be longer than I expected, so I reframe my mind to deal with a 4 1/2 to 5 hour back half instead.

Climb trail arrives and I'm getting passed. I start to have issues staying centred on the trail, and am weaving a bit back and forth, so I try to stick to the upside of the mountain so I don't slip on a switchback. Candice Ridyard comes up as I sit on a rock in the blazing sun and asks how I'm doing. Thumbs up, but I feel like shit. We have a quick chat about the next section, I mention the false downhill before you climb again, and she disappears into the forest. Puke number two decides to make an entrance and it's violent. Whatever was in that forceful cleansing sets off a chain reaction of cramping up and down my right leg. I'm now hobbling up climb trail with a seized leg that is also rapidly cramping, and I can't take in any water, or fuel (liquid or otherwise). Not good, since I know that dehydration was my bane last year, and I have to do whatever it takes to avoid that to ensure I get to the finish line.

I reach the top of Climb Trail, and there's the course marshall there. I sit down on a stump and let my stomach settle. I love Angry Midget, but it's steep and fast to get into AS4, so I don't want my gut wrenching on the way down. She checks in on me, I set my watch for a 2 minute countdown and breathe. Down I go. I make it halfway down, stop, run some more and remember that our friend Shanthi is course marshall on the road kick out. I race down to her, and hear her signature, "You ROCK!" 
I ask her if she has a phone and if she can text my wife Simone that I'm way behind schedule, but her phone died. Quick hug and I take off down the road to AS4. I need some help.

I roll into the aid station and David Appleby, who was AMAZING as transport team David/Jeff on Saturday, is the captain there for Sunday. He gives me a hard time in just the right way, but also takes excellent care of me. I get a chair, try some coke to sip, and sit near the bushes to ensure that I have a safe place to hurl if that happens. I stay at AS4 for 20 minutes. David kindly uses the radio to contact Sarah Newman-Thomas to text my wife, since there's no reception in this area. Yea, I used my official status to use channels to communicate, but I was okay with it. I was SO far behind my goal pace that I knew my other friends would pass me at some point if this didn't get fixed.

I take off down Fools Gold and move through the Darwin's Crossing portion of the course. I'm at km 34, but I feel like it's twice that. There's a valley that connects STP into Bonsai and the temperature is sky rocket high at this point in the day. The wheels fall off completely in this valley. I puke my way up the trail, stopping every 30 or 40 steps. I count this whole section as one puke for the record. By the time I get into the shaded trees, I'm totally done. Exhausted from puking. Unable to drink anything. My mouth tastes like bile. My legs, now both sides are fully cramped. My left quad cramps so hard that my kneecap gets sucked up into it and I can't bend my leg. I sit down on a rock, completely spent. How did this happen? I've run further, faster, and with harder conditions self supported. Something about race day at SQ50 has it in for me. I lean back and close my eyes for a second and I just want to sleep. I have a thought. I could just sleep here. Forever.

Into the Belly of the Beast

I quickly open my eyes, and realize that if I don't get up now, I won't. I yell at myself, "Let's go fucker! MOVE!" I snap to my feet, my left leg still locked with my knee cap doing it's own thing and single leg hop along the trail. It's magnificently the most ungraceful thing. There's a set of rocks before this section goes into a downhill, and I won't be able to go down it with my leg locked, so I lean against a tree, and start massaging it into "relaxation." I keep repeating, "relax, relax, relax." Finally, after a few minutes, the quad stops being seized and I go downhill before it changes its mind!

I make it about half way down and I have to stop. My legs are cramping like crazy, and although my quads are not locked in place, my entire legs are rippling up and down, and I'm worried I'm gonna take a dive on the technical single track. As I walk, stop, and then stop again, I hear a couple of runners coming down. A woman I don't know and then it's Elaine! She looks really good, and I'm super stoked to see her. We talk a little and I try to stay with her for a bit. It's good to have her company, and although I know she'll drop me soon, it's reassuring to know I can get through this technical section without exploding.

Elaine Killin' it!
Before the trail kicks out onto the service road, Elaine takes off, and cruises into the distance. I walk the service road, trying to keep my legs from seizing. Cramping I can deal with, but the full seizes are brutal and feel like an iron rod has been impaled into your muscles. I'm dumping water on my head and face constantly, since if I'm not drinking, at least I can try to stay cool this way. 
A couple more pukes on the FSR and I'm on my way into AS5, the final stop before the finish line.

Even my dawg was pooped!
When I come in, my wife and kids are there.They get to work, refilling water, offering me food, and seeing what I need. Dianna, Sean and Joseph Chick are also there, and offer reassurance. I sit down, my kids help change my socks (my feet look rough with trench foot, which is also a first, since I've never had foot issues.) Another racer has a bottle of pickles and kindly shares a couple of pickles with me. I fill the one bottle with water, and a soft flask with coke. I then take a 5 minute nap. 

When I open my eyes again, it's not better. I haven't woken from a bad dream. I'm at km 40 (a distance I have done multiple times) and in the worst place both mentally and physically of my life. NONE of this happened in training. My preparation coming into this race was dialled, and here I was, potentially fighting cut off and maybe not even making the finish line. Such a weird reframing of my goals. I told myself I would drop. I would drop from the race, but it wouldn't be here. It HAD to be at the finish line. I would drop at the finish line; that was the goal.

Best Aid Station We Run Mas Crew!
When I went to stand up, my legs had other ideas. My legs seized up so badly, my boys and Sean helped me to the hood of our car that was parked beside us and I leaned against it. The pain was so intense and there was nothing I could do about it. So I cried. It was all I could resort to. I was out of questioning why this was happening, or what I could have done, or what I had left to do. There was no use in analyzing any of it. I just had to experience it, accept it and allow it to happen. This Ultra had turned from a race where I wanted to achieve some time goals to the deepest emotional experience I had encountered in my life. It was no longer about the race, or making cut off, or proving anything to anyone. It was about surviving and just moving forward. Just one step after another.

I left the aid station and gave my phone to my wife. I didn't want an out. I didn't need the option to call and ask for help. The final few km from the finish line was too easy a place to get picked up and call it a day, so I removed that choice from my temptation. I went into the hellish final two climbs of Seven Stitches & Mountain of Phlegm. I continued to cramp, puke and have full leg seizures throughout the whole part. I was light headed, and shortly after Alanna passed me, Barb Wilkins came up. I tried to tag onto her, but couldn't keep up. Just before the final push up Mount Phlegm, my left foot seized and contorted into the weirdest angle, dropping me into a bush as I was stepping down onto it in a half trot/run. It took a few minutes to unlock, I crawled on all fours to the course marshall at the bottom of the final ascent and leaned my head against the rock. It was a steep slope, and he was gently cheering me on. I took a hard swig of coke from the soft flask and went up the hill. 

On the way down Phlegm, I looked at my watch. What time was cutoff? It was 4:32pm. Could I run the final 4k in 28 minutes? I started pushing with whatever I had left. It was more like run ten steps, walk twenty, but it was progress. I puked beside some boulder and rock climbers, apologized and kept running along Smoke Bluffs. I saw Carolyn, asked her about cut off, and she gave me some ice cold water. I was out of the trails and had a couple of road sections, and a park trail to get through. I walked it in to the railroad tracks, saw Sean and Jeff along the way, and then heard the cowbells. You can never have too much cowbell!

I ran along the road towards the trees to the finish line with all our friends cheering in. The finish arch was there and I ran straight into Gary's outstretched arms. It took me two years to get to that moment. It didn't matter that I missed official cut off by just over five minutes. Squamish 50 brought out something in me that I didn't know I had. And for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sarah helps carry me away. IV bag and two more pukes coming!

Official Time: 11:05:02.6
Placement: 204th (missed cut off)
Pukes: 11 (9 on course, 2 at finish line)


  1. Great race report! Congratulations on 'gutting' it out and finishing your race! I've been there with the full body cramping, so I very much admire your mental ferocity to continually get back up and finish. Well done.

    Also thank you very much for coordinating all the aid station logistics for the 50 mile race on Saturday!

    1. Thanks for your comments! Definitely an odd experience. If I can just translate my 47k @ 7:51 training run into race day, I'll be Golden!